Friday, December 15, 2006

D-Day Arrives

I was scheduled to test on Friday, December 1st, 2006, in Austin.

We left Wednesday afternoon after picking up the kids from school, and ran into a snowstorm in Oklahoma City. Traffic slowed down to 30mph at times, with a steady stream of cars in both ditches and the median, but we made it as far as Gainesville, TX before calling it a night. Thursday morning, we drove the remaining four hours to Austin and checked into our hotel early that afternoon. We stayed at the Residence Inn--about 4 blocks from the test site. After unpacking and relaxing for a bit, we drove around to find the test site, before heading off to eat dinner at a pleasant little Cajun place, where the tables are covered with huge sheets of paper--for drawing entertainment while you wait, then double as plates when the food arrives. The kids thought that was pretty cool. Back at the hotel, we swam for an hours or so before tumbling into bed about 9:30 for a great night's sleep.

Friday morning, I had a light breakfast before taking a cab over to the test site. I was the second to arrive. At a little before seven, Kelli (who is as awesome as everyone says she is) took us upstairs to the testing area, and we began filling out the additional paperwork. There were twelve of us, six men and six women. Nine from TX, one from OK, one from KS, and one from DC. Most of us were CON, although there was one MGMT, one POL, and one ECON.

The break area was shared with other office in the building--basically there was a coffee machine, a refrigerator, TV, small table and four chairs. No public terminals.

GE: three of the candidates shilled for their projects during the presentation, and one or two even stated right off the bat that they felt their projects weren't worth considering. I think I could have redirected this, but didn't, and I think that hurt everyone. Everyone had time left over for questions, and I had questions for everyone. During the discussion phase, I recommended going around again so everyone could make a brief statement as to why their project should be considered. Most of the group misunderstood this and tried to re-present their project entirely. We were able to quickly narrow the projects. I had serious reservations about certain aspects of mine, and found myself awkwardly countering the person who recommended using mine. Another candidate wanted to examine each aspect of each project to see if it met each and every US objective for that country. I could feel we were getting bogged down, politely interrupted him and moved us on to consensus. Well, it was more like ramrodding them to consensus. Not one of us passed this section (that I am aware). In retrospect, I feel I could have rearranged my presentation to greater effect, as it was fairly complicated to keep track of the up- and downsides of all components. There also was additional material that I failed to reference during the discussion that might have allowed us to make a better decision. It was a minor point in the paperwork, but could have been critical to the decision-making.

Although I was pleased with the outcome, there were definite shortcomings that dragged all of us down. Everyone in my group expressed surprise that I did not pass, but we know what that's worth, right? ;)

The CM: The quantity of material was neither more nor less than I had expected. Other than an initial slowdown on the first instruction, I felt it flowed easily and came together nicely. The math was easy, and the answers seemed fairly straightforward. One comment in one of the emails niggled at me throughout, and only afterward did I come to realize that addressing it should have instead been my primary response--which would have taken my paper in a completely different direction. Of course, it didn't help when the entire city of Austin had not one, but two national emergencies during that time, with sirens screaming in from all directions. I didn't pass this section, either, although I was still pleased at my effort this first time out.

The SI: This was the section I had tried to prepare for the most, yet it was ironically the section for which I was least prepared. Many of the PBQ questions only obliquely touched on the stories I had prepared, and to my downfall, I tried to force them to fit. Many of my best stories could not be used. One of the hypotheticals was fairly tame, which caught me off guard, and I under-answered. The other, in retrospect, had several other options I could have brought into play, but which did not occur to me until afterward.

We were called out by number--and I was the eleventh candidate. Many of the others were waiting in the lobby when I went down--only one had passed; she was already low on the ECON register (5.3), and was trying for CON. She passed with a 5.7.

Overall, I never lost composure--or had need to lose composure. The assessors were amiable and polite--even downright friendly. The pace of the day was actually more relaxed and focused than a "normal" work day, despite all of the emergency responses (another occured during my debriefing). I was pleased with my performance during the GE and CM--not quite so the SI--and was disheartened to score an unimpressive 4.6. I had expected to not pass, but I hadn't expected to score to poorly. In retrospect, however, I see how I could have improved my performance significantly in every area. For the first time, it's still disappointing, but not outrageously bad.

The assessors did hint that they were strongly considering re-implementing two cycles per year, although the 180-day rule would likely remain in effect, and that the website would have more information in January. They encourage me to reflect on the day and to try again. I asked their opinion of the Yahoo Groups, and the said "Officially, no opinion", however, unofficially, they said that many candidates found them quite useful, and that they did monitor them for inconsistencies. Nothing negative there.

Back at the hotel, I felt hollow and empty, and I was glad the rest of the family was there. They dragged me back to my feet and we went to eat Mongolian BBQ. The kids were a pleasant distraction from the disappointment of the day. They wanted to swim again once we got back to the hotel, and that helped work off much of the accumulated stress.

In some ways, I am disappointed to have not passed, but in some ways, it was a small relief, as it gives us a little more time to streamline, to sort through and discard our extra junk.

On toward April!